A community bench where people can remember those who have lost their lives to an overdose and toxic drugs could be coming to Penticton.
The idea for a covered memorial bench was presented to council on Tuesday, June 7, courtesy of Gord Portman, a Penticton resident who received a Canadian bravery award in 2020 after helping save two lives in a house fire.
Portman was inspired to get clean following his heroic intervention.
Prior to that day, the long-time Penticton resident had experienced homelessness and addiction for several years.
Portman recently celebrated two years clean and has moved out on his own after living at one of Discovery House’s recovery homes.
On June 1, he moved into his own downtown apartment and is driving again for the first time in years. His family is now back in his life.
He credits Discovery House and Pathways Addictions Centre “for saving my life.”
Portman has also dedicated his life to helping others in Penticton living with addictions.
He keeps a book with the names of more than 100 people who have died from the opioid crisis over the past several years in Penticton and the South Okanagan. One of those who died was his best friend.
That’s why the memorial bench is so important.
“Create a place for family, friends and the community to honour those they’ve lost,” an emotional Portman said to the city, after telling Mayor John Vassilaki and the city councillors about all the other friends he’s lost to overdose.
He wants a bench similar to those at Okanagan Lake Park in front of the dog beach and next to the Lakeside Resort.
The ideal location for the new bench is in the corner of Marina Way Park, overlooking Okanagan Lake. “It’s the perfect spot, it’s a beautiful setting, out of the way and you can come here, cry if you have to, think about friends we’ve lost,” said Portman.
More than 9,000 British Columbians have lost their lives due to an overdose since the province declared an opioid crisis in 2016, including 1,500 in the Interior Health region alone.
Portman isn’t requesting city funding or launching a GoFundMe campaign. Instead, he is hoping to raise the funds with everyone who has lost a friend or family member to opioids to participate for as little as $5 or whatever funds they want to donate. The bench will cost around $10,000.
“You definitely have my support,” Vassilaki told Portman. “Thank you for bringing the awareness of substance abuse to the forefront.”
Portman’s idea officially launched on Tuesday morning, June 7, with Coun. Judy Sentes among the first to donate to the cause.
Anyone who would like to make a cash donation can contact Portman on his Facebook page or at 250-486-0494 or Counc. James Miller – who is helping with this campaign – at 250-487-8882. To assure the integrity of the campaign, each cash donation will be recorded with a name and amount.